Actors for Dhar Mann Studios, a social media empire with 17.8M subscribers on YouTube are speaking out against unfair treatment and demanding better pay. Actor, writer, producer, and longtime West Hollywood resident, Michael Viccaro, shares his story.
It was sometime early in 2020, right around the beginning of the pandemic. I booked a
job acting in some YouTube video. The location was in a park, way south of downtown
LA, and I remember it was a giant pain-in-the-ass to get there because my car had
died. I had to get on a bus, and wear five different masks and stay as far away from
people on the bus as possible. I arrived on time, 40 minutes before the crew. The
“crew” was a guy with a camera, I think there was maybe a guy with a boom mic, and
there was a production assistant.
The scene was very easy. I was playing a total asshole I was sitting in a park, and
some woman with a baby sat down next to me on the bench, and the baby starts to
cry. I said a couple of lines, I don’t remember what they were, but it was
something like, “Hey, shut that baby up! You’re ruining my quiet time!” We shot it two
or three times, and then it was done. I got paid for the hour, I think it was $33.
Remember, it was the beginning of the pandemic, and no one knew if we’d ever work
again, so I was desperate. That was it. I got my ass on a bus, making myself as small
as possible, trying not to breathe, and I went home to my apartment in West
Hollywood. I had no idea who these people were, or what they were going to use it for,
and I didn’t care.
At some point later, I got a call to come back and play another role. Another asshole. I
was to find out that playing an asshole was going to be my thing at “Dhar Mann,” a
popular YouTube channel that, of course, I’d never heard of. I didn’t even know there
was such a thing as a popular YouTube channel. I mean, who sits and watches videos
on YouTube? Well, apparently, many people. Thousands, no, millions of people, and
during the pandemic, this number would grow and grow.
This time we shot in an apartment in downtown LA, and apparently the apartment
belonged to someone named Dhar Mann (oh, ok, Dhar Mann is a person—Got it). I was
playing an obnoxious owner of a modeling agency who shamed some models for
being overweight. The dialogue was kind of cringey, and I felt dirty having to say all
these horrible things to these absolutely beautiful, large women. But in the end, my
character gets his comeuppance. He loses his big account, or something like that, I
By this point, there were a few more people involved. The same director, but somebody
new was shadowing him, and a sound person, and I think maybe someone was doing
some lighting, and there was an editor, who sat at a dining room table and edited while
we shot. Oh, it’s moving up in the world, I see. Cool. Good for them. And it was fun. I
met some really cool people. The money was OK, especially during a pandemic, and it
got me out of the house.
More and more videos came, always the same old, white asshole. An old white asshole
CEO, an old white asshole casting director, music producer, lawyer, doctor, etc.,
always shaming people. Always getting his comeuppance, and always right after
someone has explained themselves, told their back story, which always ended with the
phrase, “So, you see…” “So, you see, THIS is why I’m overweight.” “So, you see, this
is why I’m so thin.” “So, you see, this is why I’m trying to be an actress at the age of
65…” All morality based, the idea being, let’s all be kind to one another, treat
everybody with respect, care about the well-being of others. This was all to become
very ironic, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I grew up in the ‘70s, so it was like
being in an ABC Afterschool Special. I felt like Eve Plumb.
After many videos shot in the downtown LA apartment, the big news was that Dhar
Mann now had a huge warehouse in Burbank, and was turning it into soundstages.
There were now two different directors, and they each had a crew. The channel was
doing really well. One video I’d done, where I played an asshole CEO who harasses a
homeless man in a pizzeria, had something like 20,000,000 views! What?! I think that’s
when I got an $11 an hour raise, and became one of the actors who got called in pretty
Somewhere around this time, early on in the new Burbank studio, I finally met Dhar. All
this time, we’d never met, but when he bumped into me at the studio that day, he
assumed that we’d already met. Because he’d seen me in so many of his own videos?
Because I’d become one of his more popular actors? And, when I was out in the street,
I started getting recognized—”Hey, you’re the old, white asshole from Dhar Mann.” I
was in Vegas for a premiere of a film that I was in, and I got recognized in a Vietnamese
restaurant. I’m not going to lie. It was hilarious and fun. What actor doesn’t enjoy
In June of 2021, a video entitled “Passenger Shamed on Airplane, What Happens is
Shocking,” in which I play an old, white asshole who shames a man with Down
Syndrome on a plane, was re-posted by the Academy-Award winning actress, Viola
Davis, and things really went crazy. By the end of 2021, Dhar had done a full-length
feature film, and there was a premiere at a theater in West LA, and since I was now one
of the more popular actors, I was invited to attend. Dhar was doing really well. I rarely,
if ever, saw him. It seemed that he was away quite a bit. And when he was around, he,
and his main director, would pull up in their very expensive sports cars. There were
more crew members, and the studio was pumping out videos much more frequently,
they might’ve been up to four a week by this point, each one garnering millions and
millions of views, which of course, translates into millions and millions of dollars.
Due to this great success, a few of the OG actors started feeling like they should get a
raise, which hadn’t happened in over a year of stunning growth. This is where the
drama begins. The actors who asked for more money, well, they mysteriously
disappeared. They were just never asked back. No matter how popular. Just gone.
There were now more channels, not just for his videos. There was a Dhar and Laura
channel, which apparently followed Dhar and his girlfriend, Laura, like a reality show.
There was a Reaction channel, where we were asked to react to our own cringey
And there was a Behind-The-Scenes channel. While I was shooting a regular
video, playing an old, white asshole, at the same time, I was asked to do behind-the-scenes interviews, and these interviews were edited into videos and put on the new channel, and they, too, seemed to garner millions of views. But for these videos, we were not paid. Word got around, if you ask for money, you’ll disappear.
The atmosphere changed. There was now a pall over the place, a culture of fear. Don’t
ask for more money. You’ll disappear. Don’t ask for a hot, healthy lunch. That’s crazy.
The studio is freezing? Shut up about it! Your suit, which you were asked to bring in for
a shoot, was damaged, and you need to repair it? Sorry. You’re shooting long hours,
and you don’t have a long enough turnaround? I don’t know what you’re talking about!
And the kids on set… they don’t seem to have tutors. That’s none of your business!
As things got more and more uncomfortable, I tried to keep my cool. This is just a job.
Just do your work, and go home. But, Dhar is buying Justin Bieber’s old house in
Calabasas, and some days I’m only making $88 a day. I’ve been here for over two
years now, certainly Dhar understands that this situation is not really fair. You want to
keep your job? Shut the hell up!
This continued until what I’m calling The Christmas Incident: December 2022. A Dhar
Mann Christmas movie. I’m in it, and I’m invited to a premiere screening at a giant
theater in Hollywood. It’s a fan event! Which means, I guess, that fans are buying
tickets. OK. I’m told there’s a section of the theater for the actors in the film. OK. When
I arrived, I realized what was happening. Yes, it was a “fan event,” which meant that the
fans were there, with us, and they wanted pictures. They wanted autographs. They
wanted to chat. Like an autograph show. Like a “Con.” And, I wasn’t getting paid. Dhar
was getting paid. All the fans paid him $100 a ticket (at least that’s what I was told), but
I was not getting paid. I guess it could be said that I didn’t have to do any of this. I
could have sat in my seat, and told the kids asking for autographs to fuck right off, but
then I would have been a real old, white asshole. The whole night left such a bad taste
in my mouth. I couldn’t suck it up this time, I felt really played. And a bunch of other
actors did, as well. This is where the seed was planted.
We figured we’d just have a sit down with Dhar and clear some things up:
• If there’s a fan event in the future, we’d like to be paid for it.
• You’re making millions of dollars off of our videos, and people seem to be watching them because they like us, so we’d like to get residuals, or some kind of buy out.
• When you contact us about a job, and ask us to keep five days open, we say yes, and turn down other work because we’ve committed to you. But then, when it turns out that you’re only using us for one of those days, we’d like to get paid for those five days, because I can’t afford to lose work. That seems only fair.
• We’d like a day rate, instead of getting paid hourly. If I only have two lines in a scene, that means I’m working maybe an hour or two, which doesn’t add up to much, unfortunately, especially since I’ve booked out for five days. Let’s say I work two of those days, two hours each day. That’s $176… for an entire five days. That is unsustainable.
• And, I’d like to be able to read the script before I sign the contract, so I know what I’m committing to.
Pretty simple stuff, I thought, and we were going into it with a positive attitude,
perfectly willing to negotiate. But the meeting was not to be. Dhar was very busy
skiing in Aspen. A couple other people showed up in his place, but we felt it was
important to speak with Dhar himself. He makes all the decisions, that’s what we were
told since day one. And for me, even though we’d be talking business, I felt like this
was a personal matter for us. Dhar and I were not friends in the sense that we hung out
and had dinner together, but we were friendly enough, and I’d worked there long
enough to feel like I was definitely a part of what was called the Dhar Mann Fam. So a
meeting with him personally didn’t feel unreasonable. I’d even thought that maybe it
could happen over lunch. You know, friendly-like.
A few days later, we were told a meeting would not happen, and we could put our
concerns down on paper. It just felt so cold. So careless. To use one of Dhar’s favorite
words, it was shocking, as in, “…The Ending Is Shocking.” We were also offered the
opportunity to give our concerns anonymously in a suggestion box. A suggestion box, I
might add, that has a camera right next to it, filming everything—that’s not going to work.
Maybe the only way to get Dhar’s attention now is to protest. Which we did. On
Monday, February 6th, we held a picket line outside the studio. We were there
approximately three hours. We were within our legal rights to do it. We didn’t break any
laws. We didn’t damage any property. We came back Tuesday, which is when the cops
were called, and I received the email saying that I was “no longer needed” there. That
was it. My time at Dhar Mann Studios was over.
Retaliation was swift. Threats of law suits, cease and desist letters, defamation of
character on social media, and the ire of former co-workers who decided to side with
Dhar. It seems people will defend their oppressors. This was a good lesson for me.
As we move forward, there are some important ways that we can change the system.
Unionizing social media actors, legislative intervention, and an update to platform
guidelines from Youtube, Facebook, etc. are just a start. Stay tuned. The Ending Will